Imagine the scene of over 1.3 million people gathered together in parks and on pavement to attend the largest concert to ever grace the planet. This momentous occasion — which landed a spot in the Guinness World Records — took place right here in H-town in April 1986 by way of the performance of pioneering French electronic music composer and producer, Jean-Michel Jarre. “I got the idea to stage a concert by using the skyline of the city as a backdrop. I think it was the first time that such a concert was done at that scale,” Jarre comments. The electronic music maven returns to Houston for the first time in decades on April 10 at the Smart Financial Center — and we are completely here for it.
Ahead of his highly anticipated show, FPH chats with Jarre about the significance of his 1986 show in Houston, the forthcoming ‘Electronica’ Tour and how he’s evolved as an artist.
Free Press Houston: I’m in Houston, which is a significant city for you, correct?
Jean-Michel Jarre: Of course, yes. For me, it’s a great statement to be back in Houston after 30 years — actually more than 30 years — where I did a concert which remains one of the most exciting moments in my life. This whole adventure saga was extraordinary for different reasons. First of all because it was the first time that NASA was accepting to being involved in cultural events to celebrate the anniversary of the organization. It’s actually still in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest audience in America for a concert or show. So, it is of course something special to me and the city of Houston.
Also, what makes it also even more special is that we were paired with one great man from Houston, Ron McNair, one of the astronauts of the Challenger to play…from space live with me on stage. We rehearsed, and I composed a special piece of music for him because he was a very good sax player. We became quite good friends in the process. When he was ready to go, he gave me a call like, “Watch me on TV for the lift off and we’ll play together, and I’ll see you in two weeks” because that’s when the concert was planned. The Challenger crashed, and it was a big tragedy for all of us. I thought about cancelling the whole project, but all the astronauts were like, “You have to do the concert as a tribute to the astronauts, these heroes.” Then, the concert took place in Houston in April of ’86. So, I’m very excited to be back in Houston as part of my world tour and coming back to Houston is something that’s very special to me and important.
FPH: That is amazing! I had no clue about all of the aspects of that particular show. Thank you for sharing.
JMJ: Yeah, it’s really an amazing story, and of course a lot of people today are not aware of how important it has been. I’m saying this beyond myself. The whole event was extraordinary. There were people everywhere. The backdrop of the city was lit with a giant projection which made the visuals absolutely staggering.
FPH: Wow! That is so awesome. Kind of touching on that, I know with the ‘Electronica’ Tour you personally designed the stage set. Can you tell me about your approach of creating the show?
JMJ: As you understand, I’ve always been a musician. I also started by studying painting when I was a teenager doing music and visual arts. I’ve been one of the first musicians to really integrate visuals at that stage in my shows. For this project — it’s a very, very special project because I devised the stage design based on the idea of 3D. It’s made of different layers of LED screens for which you can see the band and myself. I devised every graphic and every visual content for each track. So far, we’ve had an extraordinary welcome from the audience in Europe and in the States because I did concerts last year at the Radio City Music Hall in New York, the Greek Theatre in San Francisco and the Staple Center in Los Angeles. Those are different [and] great locations. I’m really happy to share this show with everybody in Houston. Also, it’s a difference from my American tour last year. It’s an improvement from what we did last year. It’s very exciting.
FPH: I admire that not only are you a musician, but you’re also behind the visuals. Not a lot of artists do both. So, kudos to you!
JMJ: Thank you, Gabrielle. Thank you very much. In a way, doing music and visuals are very close these days when you’re using software.
FPH: Another thing I admire about you is the cohesiveness of your albums. They’re almost like a series of short stories. Is this intentional?
JMJ: Yes. Thank you for asking because I always considered that. When I did my first album, Oxygen, I did each piece of music in several parts. Part one, two, three, four, five and six are like a book. When I was writing this, I always said it could be interesting to do a series of stories. I like telling stories through my music. I always considered music as the soundtrack to the movie we can make in our mind by listening to the music. You have your vision and I have my own vision when we’re listening together the same song. This is the beauty and strength of music in my opinion.
FPH: That’s exactly what I had in mind. We all have the soundtrack to our lives that tell stories.
FPH: That totally makes sense. I took a look back at your three-part series of Oxygen that was released nearly 40 years ago, correct?
JMJ: Yes, right.
FPH: How do you feel that you’ve evolved as an artist while maintaining your signature?
JMJ: I’m quite obsessed with what happens next. I’ve always thought that I could do better for the next project. When the project is finished and behind me, it doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the audience. Then, I’m interested in the next project. I’ve also always been interested in new technology, new instruments and exploring new territories both from the musical side and visual side. I’m really approaching this next tour as a beginner like the excitement when you are a teenager experiencing something new for the first time.